Intentional conversations are an underrated – and too often undervalued – form of qualitative research that can generate insights to power branding exercises, creative advertising and advocacy campaigns.
Insights gained from intentional conversations provide the perspective and language of people discussing a product or idea, which telephone or online surveys generally can’t deliver.
Findings from intentional conversations aren’t – and shouldn’t be – rendered as pie charts or percentages. That’s the role of quantitative research. Polls and surveys can statistically verify the findings from intentional conversations and intentional conversations can help sharpen the questions asked in surveys and polls. They aren’t enemies. They are just tools.
The best research is the research that matches the task. Some of the tasks that match well with intentional conversations include:
- Shaping a branding strategy
- Checking stakeholder alignment on a new initiative
- Evaluating creative content
- Exploring policy options or product features
- Assessing management options
- Learning the language consumers use
Intentional conversations can take a variety of forms that include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, roundtable discussions, meetings with opponents, point-of-sale intercepts and online dialogues.
What makes this form of research robust is its conversational character. You aren’t asking for “yes/no” answers. You are probing what people think about a subject.
Skilled researchers understand the value of sparking constructive conversations, and, when needed, how to cool down overheated exchanges or prevent an alpha person from dominating the dialogue.
Like any form of objective research, there is no right answer. Questions shouldn’t be framed in ways that bait certain responses. Moderating the conversation should include delving deeper on some points, but not skewing or influence the conversation in any particular direction.
Many kinds of intentional conversations have the side benefit of being easier to set up and often cheaper. A manager can schedule lunch with his staff. A company leader can call up a persistent opponent to talk over a cup of coffee. You can ask customers or vendors to sit down and talk about working with your business or nonprofit.
The most fruitful intentional conversations rely on rigor and someone experienced at conducting this kind of research. Consistently following a well-designed discussion guide yields comparable information from multiple interviewees. A light-touch in asking follow-up questions avoids bias.
One of the most unsung advantages of intentional conversations – and qualitative research in general – is the use of visuals such as logos, print ads or videos as part of the exploration. This is especially valuable in evaluating creative material. It can look great on the drawing board, but fall flat in a group discussion. Better to have your ego crushed in a small group than after spending a few million to air ads that confuse consumers or don’t succeed in their purpose.
When research budgets are cut or on the chopping block, remember to look at intentional conversations. They may very well provide a cost-effective, multi-purpose research option that delivers the insights you need to make a smart decision, create a memorable logo or run a profitable advertising campaign.